Sheep of the Ullswater Valley

by Jane Firth

Here in the Ullswater Valley we are coming to the end of this year’s lambing season, the shepherd’s busiest time of year. Sounds of lambs and their mothers calling to one another are a constant addition to the bird song and playful young lambs are a joy to watch.

Although the Herdwick is the native breed of the Lake District you might be surprised by how many other varieties you can find in the Ullswater valley. Take a look at the slideshow below and see how many you recognise.


The Herdwick is the native breed of the Lake District, championed by Beatrix Potter. It is thought to have been brought to this country by Norse settlers over 1000 years ago. The name comes from the Old Norse word herdvyck meaning sheep pasture and is recorded in 12th Century documents. It is a minority breed with 95% of the 50,000 sheep living within a 14 mile radius of Coniston. They are very hardy, living their entire lives on the fells with a very strong homing instinct – they never wander far from where they were born. The Cumbrian word for this is “hefted.” For this reason, when a farm is sold, the sheep are sold with the farm.

Herdwick wool naturally sheds water and dries more quickly than many wools – essential for surviving on the fells. However, because it is very course wool and it is not white, it belongs to the lowest price band of the Wool Marketing Board.  As a result, farmers pay more to have their sheep shorn than they receive for the wool, but shearing is still essential for the health of the sheep.

Off the sheep, Herdwick wool is used for Wool by Cumbria Carpets as well as recyclable, naturally fire-retardant insulation by Thermafleece.  More recently, the better quality wool has begun to be made into Herdwick Tweed which is naturally water-repellant. Poorer quality wool is being mixed with bracken harvested from the fells and made into fertiliser by Dalefoot Composts. There is even a company, Solidwool,  combining Herdwick wool with fibreglass to make furniture!

Herdwick lamb and mutton have a very distinct taste and are often on the menu at the Lake District’s top restaurants. They were even eaten at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation banquet in 1953. In 2013, Lakeland Herdwick meat received a Protected Designation of Origin from the European Union (like Champagne and Burgundy).

Herdwick lambs are born in late April or May when the weather in the Lake District is warmer. They are usually born black. When they are a year old (a “hogg), they are dark brown. As they mature, their coats become lighter, ranging from dark grey to almost white. Herdwick ewes are “polled” (have no horns); rams (or “tups) usually have horns.

Other sheep breeds in the Ullswater Valley

The Yorkshire Swaledale is a very common sheep in the Lake District with its distinctive black face, white muzzle and curly horns on both ewes and rams. They are the hardy moorland sheep of the Pennines. Their wool is used for tweeds, rugs and hand knitting. Like the Herdwick of the Cumbrian fells, Swaledales mature slowly but, nevertheless, in recent years their value has increased dramatically due to one key characteristic – they make excellent mothers.


Swaledales may be crossed with Bluefaced Leicesters to create a hybrid known as the North Country Mule. The Mule has the best qualities of both parents. From their Swaledale mothers the Mule lambs get their hardiness, milking and mothering abilities; from their Bluefaced Leicester fathers, they get their increased size and lustrous wool.

The Bluefaced Leicesters have either a blue/grey face or a brown and white one. They also have Roman noses. The North Country Mules have black and white mottled faces and a hint of the Roman nose belonging to the Blue-faced Leicester father. They have high quality wool with a long, crimpey staple (the length of the wool) which is used for carpets and by hand-spinners.

Since Swaledales are such good mothers, older ewes who can no longer raise lambs on the fells are still valuable as experienced breeding ewes on better quality, lowland pasture.

North Country Mules may themselves be crossed with a lowland meat breed such as the Suffolk, with its floppy black ears, or the Dutch Texel, with its distinctive piggy face. The result of this cross is quick-maturing butchers’ lambs.

Farmers in Cumbria who have lowland pasture often keep Suffolks and Texels.

N Country Mule with MulexSuffolk lambs
North Country Mule with Mule x Suffolk lambs

Another sheep breed native to Cumbria is the Rough Fell but it is more commonly seen in South Cumbria and parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire. It is very hardy and like the smaller Swaledales and Herdwicks, can endure the hardships of high moorland and fells. It is raised primarily for meat but there is a farmer in the Yorkshire Dales using Herdwick, Swaledale and Rough Fell wool to make Shepherdess tweed. Rough Fell sheep have a broad white patch across their black faces, and both sexes have horns.

Rough Fell sheep1
Rough Fell

Lastly, the Cheviot. This is a white-faced, hornless breed with distinctive pointy ears. It originated in the Cheviot Hills, on the borders of England and Scotland. It was recognised as a hardy sheep as early as 1372, surviving in windswept conditions. They have a strong constitution and good mothering instinct. They are not found high up on the fells in Cumbria but are frequently seen lower down. Their lambs mature faster than the slower growing Herdwick and Swaledale. The wool is used for tweeds, knitting, blankets and rugs.


You will find all these sheep in the Ullswater Valley as well as some rarer breeds. Next time you walk the Ullswater Way see how many you can spot.

Please remember not to disturb or worry sheep. Above all, please keep your dog on a lead, even if they usually come when you call.

Springtime on the Ullswater Way

Thanks to everyone who is staying at home. We look forward to welcoming you back to the Ullswater Valley once the current situation passes.

In the meantime take a look at Springtime on the Ullswater Way – a series of photos from previous years that we hope will lift your spirits, bring back memories and encourage you to look forward to happier times.

Many thanks to our photographers – Anne Clarke, Tim Clarke, Jane Firth, Paul Harris, Gordon Lightburn, Cecilia McCabe and Janet Wedgwood.

The multiple challenges of managing recreation and biodiversity in a working landscape

Understanding Ullswater Evening Talk by Pete Barron, Glenridding Common Land Manager, John Muir Trust

The John Muir Trust was established in 1983 to ‘Protect and enhance wild land for the benefit of both people and wildlife’. In 2017 they were awarded a 3 year lease on Glenridding Common which includes the summit of Helvellyn plus Swirral and Striding Edges.

In his talk, Pete Barron highlighted the achievements of the last two years, describing the range of tasks they have undertaken and the way in which the local community has been involved.

33% of all Commons in England are in Cumbria. A key aspect here is that Glenridding Common is a working landscape: two local farmers graze their sheep on this section of the Fells.

Achievements by JMT in the last two years include:

  • A winter conditions monitoring system from near the summit of Helvellyn that provides hourly temperature data to help winter climbers assess conditions before attempting a climb. The climactic conditions and the craggy terrain of Helvellyn provide a niche habitat for unusual plants, including three extremely rare alpine species (downy willow, alpine saxifrage and alpine meadow grass). These are vulnerable to damage by crampons and ice axes when the ground is not frozen solid.
  • Connecting and engaging with young people and sharing knowledge of wild sites with them.
  • Mitigating the effects of human footfall and especially of large events – e.g. the JMT can warn event organisers where the rare plants are along a planned route for e.g. fell-running
  • Re-seeding the summit of Helvellyn. Twenty six tons of stone (removed from cairns) have been scattered to discourage walkers from straying from the path and the area has been re-seeded with a mix of grasses. The vegetation has already recovered significantly.Work party 8 18 Helvellyn summit

Work Party on Helvellyn Summit © Pete Barron

  • Local residents are supporting the JMT’s programme to increase the population of rare alpine plants on the Helvellyn range. Willow grown from cuttings and a range of alpine plants grown from seed have been cared for by local residents before being planted out on the rock face of the Helvellyn coves by JMT and Natural England. Water avens & sawort

Water avons and sawort © Pete Barron

Other rare species on the site that are being protected and encouraged are:

  • Dwarf Willow and Greenside Juniper which is in danger of disease and needs constant surveillance.
  • The Schelley fish in Red Tarn is an ice age relic and needs protecting. Red Tarn also contains England’s highest (in altitude) population of sticklebacks.
  • The Ring ouzel (mountain blackbird) is a declining species and needs monitoring. There are four pairs here at present. Other rare birdlife includes snow buntings in winter.
  • Mountain Ringlet, the only true Mountain Butterfly, can be seen on the wing on Raise in July


Other priorities and achievements include:

  • The leats (water management system) from the old Glenridding mine are part of industrial archaeology and need maintenance too
  • Education is very important aspect. MICCI (Moorland Indications of Climate Change Initiative)has  supported local schools, including Patterdale school,  helping to collect data such as water levels and peat depth.
  • The John Muir Trust award scheme encourages children and young people especially, to connect with, enjoy and care for the wild spaces
  • Signage on the Fells – JMT joins in the debate about whether more signage of The Fells for walkers would be a good thing or not.

Cecilia McCabe

The Lowther Castle Loop

It was a perfect day to walk the 7.5 mile (13 km) Lowther Castle Loop – the latest addition to the Ullswater Way. From Lowther Castle, the circular route follows the banks of the Lowther river, through the hamlet of Helton and then up to Askham Fell with its panoramic views, before returning through the charming village of Askham.


The route is clearly marked with the distinctive yellow logo of the Ullswater Way Lowther Castle Loop and clearly described in the new edition of the Ullswater Way Guide.

From Lowther Castle car park, the walk begins by following the castle walls before entering woodland and descending to follow the meandering River Lowther. Woodland gives way to more open deer park and just before Crookwath bridge the path approaches the riverbank – a perfect spot to pause a while, enjoy the views and, if you are lucky as we were,  see a kingfisher fly past.


After crossing the bridge the route continues through hay meadows to the charming village of Helton.  A short climb out of the village leads to the vast expanse of Askham Fell.


The prominent Cop Stone is the first hint that Askham Fell is rich in ancient history. The track from the Cop Stone across the fell passes a series of burial cairns and stone circles, suggesting the area  was of special importance to our Bronze and Iron Age ancestors.

The fell is also home to sheep and fell ponies.

After about a mile, the Lowther Loop takes a sharp right turn off the main track to head downhill towards Askham but it is definitely worth walking on a short distance to see the wonderful views over Ullswater and the Helvellyn range. Then return to the junction and take the sign to Lowther Castle.


The route descends from the fell into the picturesque village of Askham, with its Punchbowl Inn, Queen’s Head Inn, Village shop and Askham Hall cafe, before crossing the River Lowther and climbing through woodland back to Lowther Castle and the promise of a delicious homemade scone at the Castle cafe.

An excellent day’s walk, full of variety and with stunning views. Definitely one to repeat!

by Anne Clarke

For more information see Lowther Castle website


Crowdfunding for urgent maintenance work on the Ullswater Way

Walking the 22 mile Ullswater Way is a challenge. Just like taking care of its surrounding footpaths. The path welcomes thousands of visitors each year but this popularity comes at a cost.

Users Ullswater Way

Urgent maintenance work is needed to reduce the impact of the busy summer season ahead so the Lake District Foundation have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £5,000 by the end of April.

The route needs drainage works, improvements to the path surface, new drystone walling, waymarker signs and help to maintain the general upkeep to ensure the path is litter free.

The money raised through this appeal will be used for this work to be carried out by the Lake District National Park ranger team and volunteers.

Volunteers (2)

It only takes a small donation to make a big difference:

  • £5 helps pay for a new finger post
  • £10 helps pay for a new gate
  • £25 helps pay for a new section of surface path
  • £50 pays for one metre of drystone wall
  • £100 covers the cost of planting an acre of new native woodland
  • £200 could pay for a day’s digger time or a day’s work for a skilled contractor to carry out the repair work

Please donate here to support the invaluable work of the rangers and volunteers.

Caroline Conway, The Lake District Foundation Campaign and Events Manager

Lake District Foundation SQUARE FORMAT PRINT

Dorothy’s Daffodils

Now is the time to share Dorothy Wordsworth’s excitement at an early sighting of our native daffodils along the shores of Ullswater.

Lakeside Daffodils near Gowbarrow

In her journal entry for 15th April 1801, she describes how they ‘tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever dancing, ever changing.’

‘They grew among mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones, as on a pillow for weariness’.

Another line from that journal entry: ‘I never saw daffodils so beautiful’ is inscribed in the bar of the ‘Dorothy Gate’ situated just outside the Aira Force Tea Room.

The Tea Room is now open from 10.30 am – 4 pm and the Ullswater Steamers are running a mid-season timetable from Glenridding, Howtown and Pooley Bridge.

Steamers Timetable March 2019

And pause to think: Dorothy Wordsworth’s entry for this sighting was 15th April – ours is March 11th …

Cecilia Fry,   March 11th 2019



Ullswater Way Dalemain Loop – “The Four Bears Marmalade March”

The recently-opened Dalemain Loop is a 5 mile (8 km) circular route connecting with the Ullswater Way at Pooley Bridge. It leads the walker along the banks of the River Eamont,  through open pasturelands, to the imposing Dalemain mansion and on to the historic village of Dacre before returning to Pooley Bridge around the base of Dunmallard Hill. 

The Dalemain loop provides walkers with an opportunity to explore these historic pasturelands and parklands and imagine the lives of those who have lived and worked here over hundreds of years.  Be sure to allow time to linger at Dalemain and visit the house, which is mainly Elizabethan but has a beautiful Georgian facade.  Stroll through the gardens and taste the wonderful home cooking served in the Medieval Hall. In February you may be lucky enough to coincide with the World Marmalade Festival which takes place at Dalemain each year.


As you approach the village of Dacre pause for a while to admire the imposing 14th century Dacre Castle.


Be sure to visit Dacre’s church, with its four stone bears in the churchyard, and perhaps call in for refreshment at the Horse & Farrier Inn.

Some may wish to begin the route at Dalemain, arriving at Pooley Bridge in time for a cruise on the Ullswater Steamers before continuing the loop back to Dalemain.


The route is clearly signposted and you can download a Map of the Dalemain Loop from the Lake District National Park website.



The Dalemain Loop is included in the Ullswater Way Official Guide, available for £4.99 at local retail outlets. £1 from each sale helps the National Park keep the Ullswater Way in good repair. 

Enjoy the walk!